John Moreland. Hi-Dive. 05.07.15
John Moreland and I used to be friends. We used to hang out at 3 Kings drinking tallboy PBRs. We discovered Boulder’s Illegal Pete’s together. We even caught up at The Roxy in California after his Stagecoach performance. We watched Daniel Romano and Nikki Lane woo the Hollywood crowd…each in their own way. I posted photos and checked us in. Our mutual friends liked all those posts and photos. It was one of those easy friendships. No drama. Stress-free. And everything seemed copacetic until the day John Moreland disappeared from my Facebook feed. Like a civilian, I was stuck receiving updates on the tour and news about High on Tulsa Heat from his band page. Just like that, John Moreland and I were no longer friends.
“I deleted my Facebook account and it feels fucking great!” Moreland announced to the crowd gathered at Hi-Dive on Thursday night, explaining to many of his followers why they weren’t seeing witty life reflections from him in their feed anymore. He was a few songs into his set when the conversation came up. He was introducing “Cataclysm Blues No. 4”, a song from a split he did with Austin Lucas for the Wax Packs Series, when he explained that it was only available on the internet, “not in the real world.” The song came to life when Ryan Johnson of American Aquarium asked him for help writing about David from the Bible. Instead of helping Johnson out, he stole the idea and wrote a song for himself. Unlike his opening slot at The Roxy, Moreland was full of stories like that during his headlining spot on Broadway. Maybe he just had more to say in the real world now that he’s deleted that pesky blue app from his phone, or maybe he’s just more comfortable in front of a Colorado crowd. Whatever the reason, the late night set was heavy on songs and insight that could only exist in the real world.
Armed with nothing more than a stool and his guitar, Moreland started the show the way he always does. He closed his eyes, opened his mouth, and let the truth flow out — all while his tattooed fingers set that truth to music. “Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars” introduced the new album, before “Blacklist” and “Your Spell” reminded us why we came around in the first place. “I’m told this one is a single, but I don’t know what that means.” “Heart’s Too Heavy” might not be a single in the traditional sense, but it deserves radio play more than any single song you’re likely to hear this year. “Sad Baptist Rain” was the one about “being a Southern Baptist punk rock kid...because those exist in Oklahoma.” “I Need You to Tell Me Who I Am”, “Break My Heart Sweetly” and “Oh Julia” didn’t need introductions, but they did deserve respect. Unfortunately that respect wasn’t given. Moreland might be more comfortable in front of a Colorado crowd, but Denver just couldn’t shut the fuck up. You could’ve heard a pin drop on Sunset Blvd during his short set at The Roxy, but he had to strain himself to be heard over the drunk assholes at the bar at Hi-Dive. It was unfortunate, but it was also to be expected at that venue. It’s the one reason I hate seeing acoustic shows there.
“I think last time I was in Denver I said I was gonna learn a Ben Nichols song. I didn’t do that.” It was ok though, because “Cherokee” and “God’s Medicine” are as good as any Ben Nichols song, and those were what came next. Some requests were made and some explanations were given, “man, I don’t know that one, I meant to practice, but I didn’t”, but no one could complain when he took us back to his first solo album for “Avalon”. Earthbound Blues was available on vinyl for the first time back at the merch booth, so Moreland had to plug it a bit. “I want to sell you things. Not in a shitty way. You know, only if you want to.” “You Don’t Care for Me Enough To Cry” is the most heartbreaking song on the new album and evidently it’s too sad (and too long) for morning television. “I found out this song is too sad for Dallas Forth Worth morning television. It’s too sad and it’s 40 seconds too long. So you won’t be hearing it on Dallas Forth Worth morning television.” That’s too bad for those in Dallas Forth Worth, because the song was just sad and long enough for those of us in Denver.
It was before the In the Throes trifecta of “Nobody Give a Damn”, “3:59am” and “Gospel” when Moreland admitted to being in some discomfort. “The whole state of Wyoming gave me food poisoning, so I’m gonna hurry up and play these before I puke.” If he really was sick, he did a great job hiding it through those last three classics. He even managed to stick around and shake hands after his 75 minute set. I spoke to him a bit about Hollywood and Stagecoach, then he took a photo with my wife. For a minute there, it was almost like we were friends again. But then my wife and I were in an Uber heading home while John was dealing with his food poisoning and plotting his course to the next town….and the next state, where he would perform for a whole new crowd of people who all consider him a friend as well. John Moreland pours his heart and soul into brutally honest songs, and those songs make us all feel like we know him… but we don’t. Not really. He sure as shit doesn’t know us either. So I’m almost glad I’ll be hearing about his next tour and album via his band page. The man already gives us enough through his music. We don’t need to be a part of every detail of his personal life as well. John Moreland and I aren’t friends. We never were. This is the real world. And in the real world, he is one of the best songwriters of his generation and I am just another fan. Just like every lyric to every song he’s ever written, that’s undeniable truth of it.
Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars
Cataclysm Blues No. 4
Heart’s Too Heavy
American Flags In Black & White
Sad Baptist Rain
I Need You to Tell Me Who I Am
Break My Heart Sweetly
You Don’t Care for Me Enough to Cry
Nobody Gives a Damn About Songs Anymore